Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Stranding Location: Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, SC
Arrival Date: 06/01/2018
Weight: 117.62 kg (259 pounds)
Voldemort was rescued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers Jerry Tupacz, Billy Shaw, Gina McQuilken and Joe VeVerka. Jerry and Billy, along with their team of nesting volunteers, had just finished up nesting work out on Cape and Lighthouse Islands when they found a turtle with two crab traps entangled around its left, front flipper. Luckily, this was not their first rodeo, and they were able to get this large loggerhead onto their boat. Jerry knew the turtle needed immediate attention, so he called the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Permit holders, Mary Pringle and Barb Gobien, drove to the boat landing in McClellanville where they met the group of sea turtle nesting staff and volunteers. It was no easy feat getting this nearly 260-pound turtle from the ground to the back of the transport van; they needed six people to move the heavy turtle. While en route to the South Carolina Aquarium, Voldemort was very active, moving around in the back of the van. They made it to the aquarium safely where we had a team ready to wrangle this big guy!
Voldemort was placed in a bin to sedate him prior to his triage. A patient this heavy and this large is also very strong, so sedation was going to be our best option in order to properly and completely triage him. He’s a whopping 259 pounds, and his shell length is nearly 1-meter long! Voldemort also has a long tail, indicating that he is a male. We measured his tale and confirmed that he is, in fact, an adult male loggerhead. Adult males are a rarity so close to shore; you will often find them cruising offshore where they spend their entire lives foraging for food and mating. This loggerhead was unlucky enough to come across two different crab pots that he had likely been dragging along with him for 10 -14 days based on the severity of the stricture injuries. Once all of the rope was removed, the wound was cleaned and assessed. The wound is incredibly deep, reaching all the way to the bone, but the good news is there is no damage to the bone itself. Voldemort was placed on two different antibiotics to ward off infection, and staff will monitor the flipper and the wound closely. We will look for signs of healing as well as signs of infection, so we can catch it early and treat it right away. For the night, Voldemort was placed in a tank in shallow freshwater to kill the marine leeches he had on his face and body.
June 2, 2018: Voldemort was alert and fairly active throughout the day. Staff offered him a piece of fish, but he showed little interested in it. It is not uncommon for a patient to take a day or two to acclimate to their new surroundings before they begin to eat. Thankfully, Voldemort is in good body condition. If he does not begin to eat by the end of next week, he will be started on fluids.
June 15, 2015: Voldemort took ten days to show interest in food, and he when he finally did, he went after frozen blue crab. Blue crab is a very common natural prey item for loggerhead sea turtles, so staff were not surprised. Staff are continuing to offer blue crab and pieces of fish in hopes that Voldemort will transition over to the nutritious fish items offered to other patients. Voldemort’s flipper doesn’t look bad right now either. Most of the tissue looks fairly healthy and it is starting to heal around the stricture wound. If all goes well, Voldemort will be able to keep his flipper, but staff continues to monitor it closely for signs of infection.
July 1, 2018: Since our last update, Voldemort has started to eat all fish! It took a little outside-of-the box thinking to transition Voldemort to an all-fish diet. First, we cut the crabs in half and stuffed the fish in the body of the crabs. After a few days of that, we began spearing the fish onto the legs of the crabs. Soon we were able to offer a piece of fish with a single leg speared through it and, very quickly after that, Voldemort began eating fish with no blue crab at all! Even though blue crab is a natural prey item for loggerheads, it is not the easiest food item for us to feed due to availability. Fish is a much more nutritious diet for Voldemort and will help him heal his flipper.
July 15, 2018: Voldemort was pulled out of his tank recently for an exam by the vet. The humerus bone is exposed. Over time, the dead tissue surrounding it has fallen off and will likely continue to. After the dead tissue is gone, healthy tissue will form over the bone to protect it. This will take a very long time! Otherwise, Voldemort is a good eater and very shy, spending most of his time in the back of his tank resting.
August 1, 2018: Voldemort is nearly done with his antibiotic injections, and boy is it showing! He is very active in his tank, and his previously shy personality is changing. He is spending much more time in the window of his tank looking out and trying to bite at anything he can see. In only a few short weeks, he has begun using his injured flipper more. It is covered in fibrin, and there is even some pink, healed tissue filling in around the edges. We have plans to move Voldemort to a bigger tank soon where he can have more room to swim around and use his flipper. Stay tuned for updates!
August 15, 2018: Last week, Voldemort was moved into Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery on the first floor of the aquarium. It was quite the feat to move this 277-pound loggerhead from the basement into his new home! Staff pulled him from his tank in the basement, weighed him on the hydraulic scale, moved him into a large padded bin to safely transport him to the first floor, and moved him back onto the hydraulic scale to lift him up to the height of his new tank. Then two staff members got into the new tank to assist the staff on the outside with placing him into the tank. We took every precaution to make the move safe for Voldemort, and all of the staff and volunteers involved. In the process we examined his injured flipper and everything was covered over in fibrin or skin; he’s been using it with no problem as he swims around his tank. We are very happy with his progress! Voldemort will likely stay in Recovery until he is released, so come check him out!
September 1, 2018: Voldemort has adjusted well to his new home in in Recovery. He enjoys sleeping, eating fish heads and splashing water onto the windows for staff to clean all day long. Voldemort is in the long-term recovery portion of his rehabilitation, so staff will continue to monitor his flipper wound through the tank window. Since Voldemort is fairly aggressive and very large, we will only pull him out of his tank when absolutely necessary instead of monthly like normal.
October 1, 2018: Voldemort continues to do well. Due to his large size, we do not pull him for a monthly weight and measurement. We are evaluating his body condition visually instead. His flipper wound is healing up great, and he seems to be using it more and more. His favorite activity to build up strength in his flipper is splashing the windows around his tank.
October 15, 2018: Not much has changed with Voldemort in the last few weeks. He still splashes the windows all day long, keeping staff and volunteers busy cleaning them off. He also enjoys napping most of the day. Voldemort is in the long-term recovery portion of his rehabilitation. Therefore, he is being kept at a maintenance diet of 1.5% body weight, which still adds up to 4.2 pounds of fish! We continue to monitor his healing and body condition through the tank windows.
November 1, 2018: Voldemort, or “Voldy” as staff calls him, finally got the all clear to have some enrichment items added to his tank. Due to his size, our interns will be getting creative in building him a backscratcher. Voldy’s left front flipper is healing and overall, he’s doing great!
November 15, 2018: Voldemort was given a backscratcher to give him some stimulation. Turns out, Voldy loves a good back scratch! He was a bit wary of the backscratcher at first; we could tell because he was swimming on the opposite side of the tank from it. But once he got used to it, he started going crazy for it! We only give him the backscratcher while he is supervised because he loves to use it so much that he’s almost knocked it out of his tank! To supplement, we give him back rubs using a long handled brush and try to feed blue crab, a natural prey item, whenever we can. Overall, Voldemort is doing great!
December 1, 2018: Voldemort is still doing really well. His wound is nearly healed up! You almost can’t even tell it was injured. We will give Voldemort a couple more months to heal and have the skin keratinize over the wound before we begin evaluating him for release. Did you know that all sea turtle species, except the leatherback, are covered in the same type of tissue that makes up your hair and nails? This tissue – keratin – acts as a protective covering over their body. The turtles can feel through it; when they get itchy, they may use their flippers to scratch their plastron, chin, or face!
December 15, 2018: The past two weeks have been uneventful for Voldemort. He has been lovingly dubbed “Voldy” by most of our volunteers and staff despite his best efforts to make us dislike him by splashing water on the window by his tank daily. He currently has a luscious algae forest growing on his shell. In the wild there are many different species of epibionts that grow on sea turtle shells. Most common of these epibionts are barnacles, but different species of algae, sea squirts, oysters, tube worms, coral and leeches are all found on sea turtle shells. A large amount of epibionts can indicate the animal has been sick for many months. Voldemort currently has a layer of algae on his shell that is difficult for staff to scrub off when he is constantly swimming around his tank. Normally we would scrub off the algae during the patient’s monthly weight check but since Voldemort is so large we don’t pull him monthly. We try to scrub his shell periodically with a long scrub brush and he seems to enjoy it when we do. Everybody loves a good back rub right?